Understanding the Benefits of Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs, also known as emotional support animals, are specially trained dogs that provide assistance to people who suffer from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Their primary purpose is to help people manage their emotional and psychological symptoms by providing companionship, comfort, and support.

The Role of Psychiatric Service Dogs

Service dogs are trained to perform a range of tasks to assist their owners. Psychiatric service dogs, in particular, are trained to provide emotional support, which can help with a range of psychological issues. These dogs offer comfort, support and can perform various tasks including providing deep pressure therapy, averting anxious behaviour, interrupting panic attacks, and waking up their owners from nightmares. These actions can help people feel more in control of their symptoms, leading to improvements in their quality of life, social relationships, and their ability to function independently.

One of the most significant benefits of psychiatric service dogs is their ability to offer a sense of safety and security to their owners. For many people with psychiatric conditions, social interactions and navigating the world can be difficult and overwhelming. By using their service dog as a buffer, most people feel more secure and confident in public settings, thus reducing symptoms and improving their overall well-being.

Training for Psychiatric Service Dogs

The process of training a psychiatric service dog is lengthy, complex and expensive. It typically takes up to two years to prepare dogs for this role, and it involves intense and comprehensive training to ensure that the dogs are appropriately equipped to assist their handlers.

The first step in the process is to identify dogs that are ideal for service dog work. These dogs must have a calm, friendly and empathetic temperament, and exhibit an eagerness to please their handlers. Once the most suitable dogs have been selected, they undergo rigorous training in obedience, socialisation, and specialised skills. They are also taught how to respond to their handlers’ specific needs and symptoms.

These specialised skills training include tasks such as deep pressure therapy, which involves using their weight to provide physical pressure and promoting feelings of calmness and security. Interrupting a panic attack involves dogs jumping up to divert the attention of their handlers, thus reducing their anxiety or distress levels. Service dogs can also alert their handlers to important signals or when they have missed doses of medication.

Benefits of Having a Psychiatric Service Dog

People with psychiatric conditions have to deal with challenges and struggles on a daily basis. Having a service dog can help mitigate these difficulties and improve the quality of lives of their handlers in several ways. Some of these ways are:

Reducing Anxiety and Depression

Psychiatric service dogs can offer comfort, preventing loneliness and sadness, which contributes to the reduction of anxiety symptoms that often precede depression. Research has shown that dogs’ presence and interaction can decrease cortisol and blood pressure levels. This helps to stabilise mood, which in turn makes it easier to manage depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Increased physical activity

Being a handler of a service dog can encourage more physical activity. This leads to the production of endorphins which aid in dealing with depression and decrease symptoms of anxiety. This often results in better overall physical health for the handler, which is vital for most people suffering from psychiatric conditions.

Improved social skills

Many people with psychiatric conditions such as autism and ADHD struggle with various social interactions. A service dog can be helpful in facilitating interactions, providing a calming influence, and stimulating curiosity in social situations.

Increased self-esteem and confidence

Psychiatric service dogs offer emotional support to their handlers, which in turn leads to their increased self-esteem and confidence levels. The unconditional love and emotional support they offer provide a level of stability and predictability, which is helpful for people dealing with psychiatric conditions that tend to challenge self-esteem and confidence regularly.

Increased independence

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help their handlers carry out specific tasks that may have presented insurmountable challenges in the past. By giving handlers a sense of security and independence, handlers become more self-sufficient and improve their daily living activities.


Psychiatric service dogs are a valuable and effective tool for people who suffer from mental health conditions. They provide emotional support, increased independence, and promote physical activity, while decreasing anxiety and depression. Notably, psychiatric service dogs have been a lifeline for many people who struggle with psychiatric conditions.

As more people recognise the benefits of these amazing companions and advocates, policymakers and the general public will continue to be more supportive of them. The more accepting society becomes of psychiatric service dogs, the more people will find solace in these sympathetic furry friends.


What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

A Psychiatric Service Dog is a specially trained dog that assists individuals who are suffering from mental health conditions. These dogs have been trained to perform specific tasks that can help their owners manage their symptoms and live a more independent life.

What tasks can a Psychiatric Service Dog perform?

Psychiatric Service Dogs can perform a range of tasks including providing grounding techniques, interrupting panic attacks, reminding their owners to take medication, waking them up from nightmares, and providing emotional support. These tasks are specifically tailored to the individual’s needs and their mental health condition.

How can I get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

To get a Psychiatric Service Dog, individuals must first be diagnosed with a mental health condition by a healthcare professional. They must then work with a reputable service dog organization or trainer to select, train and certify a dog. Additionally, individuals must also work with their doctor to provide documentation of their need for a service animal in order to have access to public accommodations with their dog.


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2) Rodriguez, K. E., & Halstead, M. E. (2017). Mythbusting: Psychiatric service dogs. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 55(6), 22-25. https://doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20170509-03

3) O’Haire, M. E., Rodriguez, K. E., & Hirsch, B. T. (2018). Service dogs and the psychosocial impact of chronic illness in adults: A systematic review of quantitative studies. Disability and Health Journal, 11(1), 11-20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2017.03.003